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PILTON, England (Reuters) - Nearly 180,000 fans will descend on a farm in southwest England from Thursday for four days of music, and, if the rain falls, mud, for which the annual Glastonbury music festival is justly famous.
British band Gorillaz, fronted by Damon Albarn, will play the main Pyramid stage on Friday night, having been brought in at the last minute after Irish rockers U2 were forced to cancel when lead singer Bono had emergency surgery on his back. Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Shakira and Muse are among other headline acts when Glastonbury, one of the world's biggest and most renowned outdoor music festivals, celebrates its 40th year.
Hundreds of other bands, from the established to the obscure and catering for every taste, strut their stuff between Thursday and Sunday.
In 1970, founder and dairy farmer Michael Eavis decided to hold a music event and booked the Kinks for 500 pounds but, when they failed to show, got Marc Bolan instead.
"I instantly fell in love with the idea after 20 years of hard work and milking cows twice a day seven days a week all year round," he said of the distinctly non-rock'n'roll beginnings to the pop calendar highlight.
"I had a sudden vision of our land being used in a different way -- and I fell hook, line and sinker for it."
From 1,500 people in 1970, when Glastonbury was known as the "Pilton Pop Festival," some 177,000 will pitch tents, fill bed-and-breakfast hotels and stay in luxury "yurts" in and around 1,000 acres of Somerset countryside.
Forty years ago they paid one pound and were given free milk from Worthy Farm. This year festival goers pay 185 pounds to get in to an area surrounded by a high fence to stop gate crashers.
Albarn performed at Glastonbury last year with Blur, and now that Gorillaz have turned from a virtual band of cartoon characters and on-stage holograms to a regular live act, they are seen as the ideal replacement for U2.
At a recent concert at the Roundhouse in London the act won rave reviews for its carnival atmosphere, featuring a string section, a Syrian orchestra and guest appearances by Bobby Womack and Mos Def.
Murdoc, the band's animated bass player, said on Gorillaz's website, that the group would be "like some great big horrible warship pulling in to the Bay of Glastonbury to save the day.
"It was us or The Beatles and they split up years ago. It's up to my Plastic Beach naval cavalry to sail in and sort the battlefield out. I can assure you though, I'm bringing extra troops. Loads of them. Glastonbury will be ours ... cutlasses drawn, trumpets ready."
Weather forecasts are for mostly dry weather, although even a relatively small amount of rain can cause a mudbath. Canoes were spotted in the campsites in 2005 following flash floods.
Funk will mix with football on Sunday, when organizers are planning to show England's round of 16 match on a giant screen. Tens of thousands of early festival goers saw the soccer team beat Slovenia on Wednesday to progress to the knockout stage.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato